High tech and tested
IFAI Advanced Textiles Conference focuses on innovations in medical textiles, safety fabric markets, and smart materials for the future.
IFAI’s 2014 Advanced Textiles Expo covered a range of innovative new technologies and products. In some cases it may take many years before these technologies and products are available commercially, but some innovations are already available and many others are on the horizon.
Bob Martin of ITW/LPS/Professional Brands in partnership with MiniFIBERS Inc., presented new information about their technology to create metal detectable fibers for the food processing industry, including how the companies are loading additives into these fibers and spinning them, as well as the practical application for this new material. They are also working on X-ray detectable fibers for medical applications, “which could have thousands of uses,” in filtration, medical and other markets, Martin said.
“Public Health Care Impact of Wearable Technology and Textile-Integrated Sensors” was presented by Auli Sipilä of Clothing+. Health monitoring for sports and the consumer market, and its wider implications in health care and wellness, were explained, including the Philips HeartCycle vest for patients with cardiac disease. The company’s focus is in “providing a bridge between the electronics and textile industries,” Sipilä said.
“Development and Applications of E-Textiles,” presented by Kazuaki Shibata of Shibata Technotex Co. Ltd., discussed current research and development of layered textiles woven with metallic threads and fibers, which can be used as conductors and electrodes. Since most e-textiles have been designed for a specific use, theirs is meant to be customizable. Their sensor textiles appear to be like any textile product (a floor mat, for example) so that they are not intrusive in a patient’s environment.
From spider silk to biofabrics, the future of fiber has endless possibilities, according to Trenton Horinek, business development manager of Hologenix LLC, who presented “Fibers of the Future.” Man-made smart fibers, such as GORE-TEX® and COOLMAX®, laid the foundation for technologies such as infrared and ceramic yarns. More companies, including Celliant® with its Hologenix’s bicomponent fiber, are creating fibers that interact with the body’s own heat, which have application in sports, outdoor industries, bedding, military products and veterinary uses.
Horinek said that carbon fiber-based yarns should be used more, and the possibilities for graphene seem to be endless. Synthetic spider silk will also play a major role, and biofabrics are just beginning to be seriously researched.
Navigating the industry
No supply chain is safe from counterfeit activity. “To the counterfeiter there is no risk; they can keep doing it all day long,” MeiLin Wan, Applied DNA Sciences Inc., Stony Brook, N.Y., said in her presentation. “But what happens to your product and the integrity of your supply chain when you don’t do anything? The potential cost of liability, market share loss, legal costs—they start to become quite meaningful.”
Wan described her company’s anti-counterfeiting solution, SigNature® DNA, as a seamless application that doesn’t affect a fabric’s aesthetics or performance. The technology works by extracting DNA from plant genomes and creating a unique “fingerprint” by altering the DNA so it won’t encode for any genes (making it functionless outside of being a marker). The fingerprint is stabilized into a carrier, such as ink, oil, water, varnish or powder, which can be applied at any point in the supply chain.
Co-presenter Rory Wolf of Pillar Technologies Inc., Hartland, Wis., a division of ITW, explained the benefits of plasma binding, the surface treatment technology that ensures product integrity can be validated.
“The Lifecycle of FDA Approval,” presented by Melody LaBeau of Medtronic, Minneapolis, Minn., gave an overview of the structure of the FDA and what you need to know about the approval process from the idea to market approval, from a device manufacturer’s point of view. “It’s a lot of work,” LaBeau said, but the FDA is ready to help companies work through the process. She urged companies to contact the FDA early to save time and money in the long run. She also noted that the FDA is creating a pathway to global product safety, a positive move for the medical device industry.
Dr. Behnam Pourdeyhimi of North Carolina State University’s Nonwovens Institute discussed how nonwovens have developed from mostly disposables to more long-life and durable materials. The balance is shifting dramatically; long-life durables are showing significant growth, while the short life nonwovens market growth is slowing down.
Pourdeyhimi sees major opportunities in filtration. Air filtration, in particular, is impacted by global pollution issues and indoor air quality standards. “Sixty percent of the world will live in cities by 2030,” he says. With “health-sapping air pollution” requiring better pollution control, filtration is poised to be a major emerging market.
He noted also that “the largest markets today are not necessarily the places to go for growth and the best ROI.” Interlinings and carpet backing are an aging market; medical, personal and health care products are mature; filters, wipes, automotive and industrial are growing markets; and durable nonwovens are at the embryonic stage.
Mary Lynn Landgraff, U.S. Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) told the audience, “We strive to spark innovation. We are a nation of innovators,” in her keynote address on growth sectors in technical textiles. “Technical markets are expanding,” she said, with outdoor textiles the fastest growing and protective clothing also poised for continued profitability.
Growth in the U.S. is driven in part by domestic energy, indicating that the U.S. will be able to be energy self-sufficient by 2035. Burgeoning numbers of “shale gale” workers in the oil and gas industry are producing “incredible demand for clothing and equipment (“Frackwear”) that can withstand the harshest, hottest, most dangerous conditions.” Sales of protective clothing (well-built work boots and fire-resistant clothing) are expected to reach $2.3 billion by 2017, according to Frost & Sullivan data reported in the Wall Street Journal.
CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) is especially important. “If you’ve got something new in CBRN, let us know,” she said.
In military markets, the Soldier Enhancement Program (SEP) is “a godsend,” she said. “You can be supplying them now and working on new products for the future.” She also advised producers to consider international military sales. “If our military likes it, I can guarantee that other militaries will want it.”